Europe Will Use Vehicle Tech to Prevent Speeding, Save Thousands of Lives

Photo:  James Stutzman
Photo: James Stutzman

Europe will require a life-saving speed-control system on all new cars — a move that the United States hasn’t even contemplated despite the system’s potential in reducing a decade-long bloodbath for American pedestrians and motorists.

The European Parliament voted last week to require that by 2022, all new cars will feature a system that restricts the flow of fuel to car and truck engines once the vehicle exceeds a set speed — typically pegged to the speed limit. European officials championed the bill, citing the possibility of saving 15,000 lives over the next 15 years, Forbes reported

Yet a similar proposal is not even on the books in the United States, where more than 6,200 pedestrians were killed last year, up 35 percent from 2009. The number of fatal crashes involving automobiles is also up sharply over the last seven years, with roughly 37,000 people dying as a result of vehicular crashes, statistics show. A large portion of those deaths are due to speeding.

“With nearly 10,000 people killed in speeding related incidents in the United States each year, managing unsafe speeds is essential to achieving Vision Zero,” said Veronica Vanterpool, deputy director of the Vision Zero Network. “Speed limiters in cars can save lives and are worth exploring in the U.S.”

Yet there has been very little discussion about using this technology — even in limited contexts. Yes, some traffic safety advocates have called for the devices to be mandated on long-haul semi-trucks — but the Obama Administration failed to get its 2016 proposal into law before the Trump Administration shut it down. It was estimated to save as many as 215 lives annually — nothing to sneeze at.

Nonetheless, even the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and the Governor’s Highway Safety Association, which have increasingly sought action on speeding, have stopped short of calling for this type of intervention. Experts don’t know why.

“[Europe’s new rule] is an extremely sensible move that will likely generate huge and lasting benefits to road safety,” said Neil Arason, director of injury prevention at the British Columbia Ministry of Health. “Of all the potential actions available in the transportation field, reducing real-world speeds — in a way that works automatically by design — is probably the most effective and immediate thing that can be done to lessen injury outcomes and prevent loss of life.”

It’s also better for the environment. Ontario, which has required speed limiters at 68 mph since 2009, has reduced carbon emissions by an estimated 280,000 ons per year as a result of the devices.

In the current context of more and more road deaths and growing attention to climate change, policymakers may finally look to Europe. A spokesman for the Governor’s Highway Safety Association, for example, called the E.U.’s mandate “good news.”

“It’s… another example of how the Europeans are more progressive than Americans regarding roadway safety,” Jonathan Adkins told Streetsblog.

Still, we have a long way to go. Recently, U.S. traffic safety leaders were congratulating Volvo for voluntarily capping vehicle speeds at an outrageous 112 mph — as if there is a substantive difference between the killing power of an automobile traveling at 120 or 112.

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34 thoughts on Europe Will Use Vehicle Tech to Prevent Speeding, Save Thousands of Lives

  1. I would not expect a similar law to limit Freedom Machines given the political climate here. But the good news is that once the European show tangible results that can be used to encourage adoption on our continent. At some point voters will realize that driving fast really is not as important as people’s lives.

  2. Many European cars have had this type of control device (called governors) for decades, although they are not tied to the speed limit.

  3. We need to stop the cat and mouse games and enforce the laws! It’s frustrating to see how one thing leads to the next and how people have come to ignore laws meant to save laves and bring order to traffic because of the unlikelihood to be caught. So what better than to prevent it in the first place!

    Limiting vehicle speeds is a strong option, GPS based enforcement is another great tool for fleet management, starting with taxi, trucks, and ride share vehicles. Automatic enforcement is another great tool, because really, if you follow the rules, you have nothing to worry about. Let’s get rid of the loopholes that let motorists slide by and let’s get people back on track.

  4. It would have to have GPS enforcement, because there are plenty of straight stretches of highway with 75 mph speed limits. Back when those same roads had a speed limit of 55, people flagrantly ignored it, because it was absurd. Maybe enough voters could be convinced to support limiting speeds IF vehicles were limited to 5-10 mph above the actual median speed per section of road. Meaning if the median speed on a 25 mph road is actually 30, the hard GPS limit becomes 35. If the median speed on a 45 mph country road is actually 50, the hard GPS limit becomes 55 or 60 mph.

    Trying to cap driver’s speed more aggressively than that will cause a voter backlash. Governor Gray Davis of California was recalled just for increasing vehicle registration fees too much. Voters won’t allow politicians to make them drive just the speed limit.

  5. Most US cars already have built-in speed limiters, assuming they’re fuel-injected and thus have an ECM. Going any further with this is silly when it doesn’t change the nature of inherently unsafe car-focused road design. And MADD would want ignition interlock devices anyway.

    Better take: if such technology were deployed to bikes, would it save lives? Maybe, but it’d also be annoying and an unnecessary burden on individual people while still not encouraging the use of dedicated bikeways.

    All of this is an attempt to avoid the real, pressing problem of road safety: the design of the roads themselves. An ounce of prevention is worth a (metric) ton of cure.

  6. “the good news is that once the European show tangible results that can be used to encourage adoption on our continent”

    That hasn’t worked for universal health care.

  7. The typical way to address this is to make sure that industries charge the full cost of product and external impacts. CO2 cap and trade is a way to charge for the extra costs.

    Similar to a gas guzzler tax, it’s possible to tax cars based on their safety via insurance or other fees and progressively increase them to shift the market to benefit safety.

    For example, evaluate cars based on pedestrian blind spots and dummy crash tests against pedestrians at various speeds. Vehicles that more frequently kill at 25 mph vs injure a pedestrian might incur an extra $100, $200, $300…. in insurance costs per year.

  8. Yes, though assessing the value of universal health care is a lot more complex than evaluating the reduction in traffic fatalities. The latter is a single number trend and easy to understand when you can summarize it in a statement like “Three years after policy X was put into place, traffic fatalities dropped from 9000 to 8000 per year”. It is easy to imagine the value of those 1000 lives saved every year. And if the cost of “policy X” is also easy to understand (ex: “lowering traffic speeds by 10MPH”) then you have nice and fairly tidy facts to discuss.

  9. I’m not sure I understand your bicycle point, but I do completely agree with your last paragraph. Traffic fatalities are not limited to illegal speeding; automobile speed in general will kill. So, if we implement tools that will help curb illegal speeding, that’s great. But if we continue to design roads to maximize vehicle speed without providing safe and protected space for vulnerable road users, people will keep dying.

    But yeah, adoption of speed governors in the US would be great. Would it solve all of our problems? No.

  10. The Ford MyKey has an option governing speed at 75 mph. I turned it on for my dad’s Focus, but it annoyingly beeps at you when you accelerate to, say, pass someone on the highway. On a two lane roadway you do need those short bursts of acceleration and speed to safely maneuver around slow moving vehicles, but installing a governor equivalent to the highest speed limit allowed in that state should be mandatory.

  11. Although there are many versions of UHC, there are simple comparisons based on per capita costs, or % of GDP spent on medical treatments and generally accepted standard health outcomes. The U.S. spends 2-4 times as much for the worst outcomes among industrialized nations.

  12. Bikes, at least human-powered ones, wouldn’t need speed limiters because they’re incapable of reaching speeds which are generally lethal to pedestrians. The impact generated by a collision is to a first approximation equivalent to the momentum change. A pedestrian hit by a motor vehicle essentially suffers all of the momentum change due to the huge disparity in masses. A pedestrian hit by a bicycle suffers roughly half the momentum change because the masses of the bike plus rider and pedestrian are more of less equal. What this means in practical terms is a bicycle must be going about 1.5 times faster or more than a motor vehicle to impart the same momentum change. We generally assume car speeds of about 20 mph or less are non-lethal to pedestrians. The equivalent speed for bikes would be 30 to 35 mph. To get into the area where the lethality starts creeping up implies speeds well in excess of 40 mph. Few cyclists can reach these kinds of speeds, even on typical downgrades on urban streets. The bottom line is that bicycles don’t need their speeds limited. The “motor” already sees to that.

  13. Note that Ontario’s speed limits only apply to heavy trucks, not to other types of motor vehicles. Even here in the states where such devices aren’t mandated many trucking companies voluntarily install speed limiters for fuel economy reasons.

    I’m on board limiting vehicle speeds to the speed limit on local streets but not on highways. The reason here is two-fold. One, there aren’t vulnerable users on highways, and therefore speed is less important for safety. Two, US highways have artificially low legislated speed limits compared to those in Europe. This idea can work in Europe where motorways typically have speed limits of 120 to 160 km/hr (75 to 99 mph). There would be enormous pushback against the idea in the US, unless we got rid of state-mandated maximum speed limits so we could set highway speed limits properly. Also, distances are longer in the US, and there is no network of alternative high-speed ground transportation (high-speed railways) as in Europe, so if anything highway speed limits here should be higher than in Europe. Doing so might also facilitate adoption of more sensible vehicles (i.e. SUVs would get horrible fuel efficiency at 110 mph). In fact, we could have higher speed limits which only smaller, more aerodynamic vehicles are allowed to reach in order to push along their adoption. SUVs and pickups, which are basically small trucks, probably should be governed to ~75 mph for safety reasons.

  14. Just set the speed limits sensibly and then govern to the exact limit. Sure, the 55 mph limit was absolutely absurd, but I question whether even a current 75 mph limit might not be too low on a lot of stretches of highways. Remember much of the Interstate highway system was designed for 100+ mph travel but the automotive technology of the time wasn’t safe at such speeds. Vehicle advances generally have increased driving speeds by about 5 mph per decade. Sections of the interstates which were posted at 70 mph in 1960 might well be posted at 100 mph now if speed limits were periodically re-examined and adjusted.

    Note also that very high highway speed limits might not be needed if we had an alternative form of high-speed ground transportation, namely high-speed rail, like Europe does. I’d much prefer traveling in a train at 200 mph than a car at 100 mph or so. The former is far more comfortable, plus at least an order of magnitude safer.

  15. The issue is defining “sensibly”. Each state’s employees who determine road speed limits are bound by certain laws and rules about how to determine each speed limit. How do we change that to a policy voters will agree to? That’s why I think using the actual observed median speed and then adding 5 or 10 mph is a good place to start. It’s fast enough for probably 80-90% of drivers to accept without complaining, while still capping some especially unsafe speeding and driving.

  16. What you wrote is by definition setting the speed limit at the 85th or 90th percentile, which is how it should be set. There should be no legislated speed limits, or “state maximum” speed limits, constraining that number. The only exception would be on local streets with vulnerable users where safety considerations outweigh how fast drivers feel like going.

  17. I think highway speed limits above 130km/h are pretty rare in Europe. And I think US highway speed limits are much less artificially low than they used to be, certainly compared to the days of the 55mph NMSL. Much of the plains are at 80mph, which is not inappropriate.

  18. +1 only Bulgaria and Poland have posted limits above 130km/h and some of the German autobahn is fully derestricted. However, the autobahn has a lot more policing than basically any other motorway system.
    70 mph is about 112km/h.
    80mph is about 128km/h.
    Link here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Speed_limits_by_country
    As you have said, large vehicles should have a lower speed limit. American sized SUVs would probably be considered light goods vehicles in Europe and be restricted to 60mph or 100km/h in most countries.

  19. Or you could have, one in every 120 Americans will die early because they can’t afford healthcare. This doesn’t happen in Europe.

  20. Pedestrian deaths due to speeding cars is infinitesimal. To equate the two is idiocy. Look at the statistics. The state with the most per-capita pedestrian deaths is Florida — its due to a large flat state WITHOUT ENOUGH FREEWAYS. The Miami bridge that fell was a PEDESTRIAN BRIDGE being built across a wide flat road. The problem is long stretches of flat road without overpasses for either cross traffic or pedestrians – pedestrians and bicyclisys refuse to detour themselves to traffic-signaled crosswalks, and prefer to cross where convenient, not where it is safe.

  21. Get them gd socialist pedestrians and cyclists outta the roads. The gubment should restrict them to only use overpasses or dedicated bikes. This is the United States of gotdam America, the freest place on earth. Quit restricting our freedom by letting people walk willy-nilly wherever they please.

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  23. Of course people are willing to trade convenience for safety. The question is how to make the convenient option also be a safe one, not how to create an inconvenient but safe option that no one will willingly use.

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  27. I recently watched a video of a collision on a Miami city street with a Telsa going 120 miles an hour. It’s pretty obvious that cars are now being made to allow people to put others at huge risks. Seems pretty simple to me to create a mandatory speed limiter law when not on a freeway. 55 max when there is a sidewalk .

  28. Let me see here, NO! I do not want this overreaching regulation shoved in my face. In reality, there is little corrilation between the speed of a vehicle and the chance of an accident provided the vehicle is capable of operation at that speed, the driver is significantly skilled and experienced at speed and is paying attention. If it were true that speed kills, then the Autoban would be a 1000 mile long graveyard.

    If anything, this will increase the number of accidents and the number of fatalities. For example, let’s say you are on a 2 lane road with a legal passing zone and the person in front of you is going 5 miles under the speed limit of 55. It would take you nearly 12 seconds to pass someone if you are going 55. However that time on the wrong side of the road shrinks rapidly as your speed incrases. At 60, that time becomes 7 seconds and at 65, almost just 4. Speed is a good thing.

    Lastly, this is another shot aimed at the free man. If this car is going to use GPS to relay my speed, it can also relay my position and will allow someone to access it remotely. This is not something that I want. And before anyone calls me a wing nut, we just got off a French court case of smart appliances gathering data on it’s users. The plianith won by the way. This could also allow that person to slow me down remotely but hey, we are all to willing to sell away our freedom and privacy in the same of safety and liking that cat video on the highway. However classic cars are exempt from this regulation. As such, classic dealers are going to make bank selling cars to people that want nothing to do with this.

  29. Limiting a consumers independent control over whether they obey or break the law on what I would have to assume if far and away the number one most cited traffic offense will make the idea of paying 17k plus tax and title for a honda civic a tougher sell as livery becomes more and more prevalent.

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